When a mad man walks naked, it is his kinsmen who feel shame, not himself says an Igbo proverb. Issues of mental illness in African contexts extend beyond just the individual to the entire family, and the whole community within which he or she belongs. The community has a moral obligation to support a mentally ill person to maintain the harmony that sustains it. The communal involvement may sometimes overrule the individual's immediate wishes; for the community seeks the good of the individual but also of all of its members. Viewed from non-African ethical lenses, the community's active involvement in the mental condition raises questions of respect for personal autonomy. For instance, it could be contended that the ill persons have certain basic rights to choose how to order parts of their lives, at least. Nevertheless, values upholding personal autonomy may not as significant as other ethical values in African contexts. African ethical principles are built around communal values, which shape the people's lives. This paper contends that African philosophy levels the playing field between respect for personal autonomy and other values in mental health ethics. It shows that principles of Ubuntu, processual personhood, and vital-force are more significant than personal autonomy in African socio-ethical contexts. The paper proffers ought-onomy as a viable alternative principle of practice in mental health ethics generally.


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pp. E-45-E-59
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